The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
It's fitting that an iteration celebrating the 25th anniversary of Madden is littered with references to past games and hampered by the feeling that, no matter what has been done for this particular version of the game, the foundations it was built upon this console generation are not fully up to the task of delivering a highly polished product.
The uneven execution of ideas that have characterized Madden in this generation continue. You can see it in an owner's mode that changes little of how you run a franchise. It's also evident in the game's second stab at a physics model that produces tackles and hits that you would have never seen before, but which often inexplicably do not accurately take into account the mass of the players involved. These collisions are also at the whim of AI that have a hard time identifying targets to block, angles to take to a tackle, and sometimes even the awareness to trigger a tackle animation when the ball carrier is near.
Madden 25 does achieve a modicum of competency – and even excellence. Another year with the Infinity engine has paid noticeable dividends in the kinds of tackles seen, despite the work needed to produce consistent outcomes in player contact. Still, the inconsistency has me pining for an unambiguous step forward such as last year's revamped passing game and the birth of Connected Careers.
I hoped the return of owner functionality in Connected Franchises would be that advancement, but its revenue and fan happiness NFL ranking system is confusing (how could my Team Success rating get lower after going deep into the playoffs?) and, in the end, didn't matter. Even with a seemingly toxic combination of a bad stadium, a losing team, and high prices, I still could sign players and renovate my stadium. I like the fact that your team funds correlate directly to how much of a signing bonus you can offer players, the staff you hire, and the state of your stadium, but there are other franchise/money-related features that are still missing. These omissions include being able to offer different contract options to players and restricted free agency.
These latter two points may be relatively insignificant, but the franchise mode still hasn't recovered all of the features that were previously purged, and presents limited choices such as not being able to negotiate rookie or in-season free agent contracts. Minute details like this are wrapped in larger-scale oddities such as a menu system that still buries or omits info.
Perhaps hoping for steps forward this late in a console generation is too much to hope for. But if the past is prologue, Madden 25's inability to separate features from fluff and meaningfully execute them has me worried for what we'll be asked to accept as progress in the next generation.
Email the author Matthew Kato, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.